Employees choose to move on to new pastures for a variety of reasons. In some cases it might be management or leadership issues which are the catalyst, whilst in others it might be a lack of training or personal development opportunities, the working environment or organizational culture, the lack of flexible working or good old-fashioned money that stirs them into action.
The more proactive organizations, of course, tend to take the time and trouble to find out about the concerns and the perceptions of their workers long before the resignation letters start piling up on managers’ desks and in time to make changes which might encourage them to stay. Sadly though, not all companies are so forward thinking. What many will do, however, is to invite departing workers to take part in exit interviews which are usually designed with the aim of helping employers to learn from their “mistakes”.
As an employee, the first things to understand about exit interviews are that taking part in them isn’t compulsory and that there are both advantages and disadvantages to doing so. Before going on to look at the type of questions that you might find yourself faced with in an exit interview, therefore, let’s just take a quick look at some of the pros and cons from the worker’s perspective.
- Agreeing to provide constructive feedback to your employer on your departure is an act of goodwill which can ensure that you leave on good terms, that your employer is less likely to give you a bad reference in the future and that you don’t burn your bridges should you decide that you want to return to the organization at some time in the future.
- Although not everyone is particularly concerned about what happens after they leave, if the working conditions of your former colleagues and co-workers do matter to you, then bear in mind that the information you provide could be instrumental in bringing about improvements on their behalf.
- If used in a constructive and appropriate way, your comments have the potential to work towards the greater good of the company by helping it to address certain of its weaknesses. If you genuinely believe in what the organization stands for and are interested in its continued success even after you have moved on, then taking part in an exit interview could give you the satisfaction of knowing that you were able to make a difference.
- Some exit interviews are designed in such a way that they represent an opportunity for outgoing workers to transfer their knowledge to existing or replacement staff. Again, if you are interested in the future health and prosperity of the company, then an exit interview can be a great way to make a final contribution before you leave.
- Although most companies use exit interviews as a means of identifying issues so as to bring about positive change, this isn’t true of all of them. For example, some use them as fishing expeditions to ascertain whether departing employees intend to take legal action against them after they’ve gone. If you do intend to sue your employer or if you mistrust the company’s motives for inviting you to take part in an exit interview, then it is always advisable to decline.
- As you will see below, some of the questions which are commonly asked at exit interviews might seem like an invasion of your personal privacy.
- The format of exit interviews varies. Some take the form of face-to-face meetings during which the interviewer records your responses while others require you to complete a questionnaire. Either way, providing meaningful responses does require time and effort that you may not wish to expend.
- Where questionnaires are used to obtain the feedback of outgoing workers, some companies claim that the information is gathered and treated anonymously. Unless you have 100% trust in your employer not to use your comments inappropriately or in a way which might be harmful to your future professional life (such as by noting them in your personnel file or including them in references provided to other employers), you could be running a huge risk by filling in the form.
- Getting the balance right between providing feedback which is helpful and constructive but positive nevertheless can be extremely tricky. If you do say anything negative at this stage of the game, it could well come back to haunt you in terms of a poor reference or by closing the door on any chances of being able to return to the company at a later date. If you make derogatory comments about a manager or leader which get back to them and then come across this person as a boss, a co-worker or even a client in the future, then you could find working with them extremely difficult.
Here is an idea of the type of things that you might be asked during an exit interview.
Your decision to leave
- What is your main reason for leaving?
- Do you have any additional reasons for leaving and if so, what are these?
- Why are the issues that you have just described of such importance or significance to you?
- What was the catalyst that triggered your decision to leave at this particular time?
- Were you exposed to any discrimination or harassment during your time with this organization?
- Could this company have done anything which would have affected your decision to leave?
- Before making your decision to leave, did you look into the possibility of a transfer or a change of role/responsibilities?
Your line management
- How would you describe your boss’ line management capabilities?
- Did your line manager support and motivate you?
- How do you think your boss could improve his or her management style?
- Did your line manager provide you with regular and adequate feedback on your performance?
- Do you think that you were provided with sufficient training to enable you to do your job effectively?
- Were the duties and responsibilities of your role as you expected them to be?
- What did you find most satisfying about your job?
- What did you find least satisfying about your job?
- What would you have changed about your job?
- Thinking back to your earliest experiences within this company, do you think there was anything that we could have done better in terms of making you feel welcome and in terms of your induction?
- Do you think that the company gave you sufficient opportunities to use your skills and abilities?
- Do you think that you were given sufficient responsibility?
- Did the company meet your needs in terms of training and development opportunities?
- In what ways do you think the company made your job more difficult?
- Did the organization’s systems, policies or procedures get in the way of doing your job effectively?
- In your opinion, were you given adequate resources to be able to do your job to the best of your ability?
Your working conditions
- How would you rate your work environment and working conditions?
- How do you think the workplace and the working conditions could be improved?
- Were you satisfied with the compensation package that you received?
- How would you rate the organization’s performance and salary review system?
Your general view of the company
- What are your general feelings about this company?
- What do you like most about this company?
- What do you like least about this company?
- How would you describe the organizational culture of this organization?
- Would you recommend this company as an employer?
- Based on your experience of working for us, what do you think it takes to succeed within this organization?
- Do you think this company has helped you in terms of fulfilling your career objectives?
- How would you rate the levels and quality of communication across the company as a whole and within the department that you worked for?
- What do you think the company could do to improve the way that it gathers and uses the opinions and experience of its staff?
- What do you think the organization would need to improve in order to retain its best employees?
Your future with the organization
- Given the right set of circumstances, would you consider working for this company again in the future?
- Is there anything this company could do that would convince you to reverse your decision to leave?
Your new employer
- What is your new employer offering you that you think we can’t provide?
- Would you be prepared to tell us who your new employer is?
- Could you offer any tips to help us to fill your role effectively?